Thank you for your DDP article, 'A ‘way of being’ in design; Zen and the art of being a human-centered practitioner'. I enjoyed your paper very much and although we may differ in certain ways, we seem to be drawing on many of the same sources such as Zen, embodiment, and also direct sensing as evidenced in the science of Goethe for some new answers.
I feel that the polarized debates and issues around progressive design are symptomatic
of the flattening
and over-simplifying tendencies of global media today. I am not a designer but
a design educator at SAIC in
Although many professionals feel that design and designers are overburdened with expectations that are beyond our purview, on the contrary I feel that design and designing suffer from the sorts of diminished expectations that come from having been fully instrumentalized in society. With depth of impact and efficacy ought not also come responsibility? Mutual relatedness is a condition of human interdependency whether we have the capacity to recognize it or not. I see the ethical void in the design professions as being yet another symptom of our monological, reductive approaches to partitioning the world. So, in distinction to your point, I do not think the role and responsibility of the designer (ethical, instrumental, ideological) can be emphasized enough, nor ought it be any less than 100% for each individual design actor. I do acknowledge your point that such demands on designers can stir feelings of guilt, anger and outrage, but I see such reactions as indicators of the much more serious and generalized problem of narcissism and short-term, individual-ego-driven attitudes and norms.
Indeed as you point out, our techno-centric ways tend to bind us to preferences for flatness, compartmentalization and packetization. Human-centered design or empathic design aspirations are quickly shallowed out, tweeted, and ‘liked’ in facile ‘how-to’ fashion. We seem to have arrived at the same conclusion; that the tremendous structuring challenge of unsustainability can only be met by the equally immersive and fully engaged presence of human-being. Status quo commercial design practice, not irrelevant but profoundly marginal, is no match for the embedded logics of unsustainability. We seem to agree also that 'sustainable design' in order to have any real meaning, will ultimately be more about challenges to our structures of consciousness than anything else.
socio-cultural critiques and postures of resistance, I searched for alternate
routes into the dilemmas we face around design and designing. I ended up living
I have been following
the work of a number of groups that are actively exploring collective iterative
creation, MIT researcher Peter Senge’s Theory U and Social Presencing Theater’s
Arawana Hayashi, for example. This past week I had the pleasure of
participating in the live cast presented by Senge’s colleague Otto Scharmer at
the Global Presencing Forum in
And we can’t speak of I-We-Thou without being reminded of the inscriptive force of individualism on the designed world. The ‘free’ individual is now part of the furniture, an unfortunate unintended consequence of Modernity dialled up by post-modernity’s me generation. I am loath to justify any position, ethical or otherwise, strictly on the basis of autonomy. I think that in our society today we regard empathy and emotions with suspicion of ulterior motives because we are cut off from the full depth and breadth of our authentic human capacities.
Although I do appreciate the aims of conventional human-centered design and I don't share your overall critique of human-centered design as a methodology, I agree with your introduction of a re-enlivened notion of human-centered design as ‘a lived, embodied experience in the in-between-ness of people and objects in the world’. Although active modes and behaviours lend better to being grasped, quantified, systematized, I do not agree that human-centered design has been defined solely as a conscious, analytical activity. I think that the best designers regardless of methodology have always developed the capacity to move from logical/analytical to sensing/being modes in designing. Today, more and more designers are working from embodied consciousness. What's new is that we see a ‘there’ there, and we attempt to put language and theory to work in analyzing this realm of reflective/tacit knowing, doing, and being.
I loved what you wrote about Schon on improvisation. It provides a good example of how the lifeworld is always already 'ontologically', recursively, designing us. On the topic of reflecting, as opposed to reflecting ON, experience, I agree that the faculties of experience and cognition and their respective truth claims are irreducibly distinct. Within this understanding we see the both/and supplant the either/or. Westerners, for example, are interdependent as well as independent within gestalts differing from Non-Westerners, but our sense-making ontologically mirrors, anticipates and potentiates conditions in our culturally particular and distinctive ways.
Lisa Norton teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Department of Architecture, Interior Design and Designed Objects.
A longer version of this article, and a forthcoming reply from Yoko Akama can be found at Design Philosophy Politics http://designphilosophypolitics.informatics.indiana.edu/